Infantry: February 4, 2003


The U.S. Air Force has about a thousand men who form two man TACP (Tactical Air Control Party) teams. Some 40 TACP airmen are assigned to the U.S. Army Special Forces and it was these guys who called in most of the bombing missions. They did it was some timely new equipment. In early 2001, TACP teams received new radios (AN/PRC-117F), which were lighter, more reliable and more powerful than earlier models. The new radio also allows TACPs to send pictures from digital cameras, so potential targets can be confirmed if the ground controllers are unsure. Previously, TACPs had to carry three different radios to get their job done. At the same time, TACPs also received new laser range finders (the Mark VII). The new range finders have a 20 kilometer range and use GPS data to provide precise location data for where the TACP team is and where the target is. The Mark VIIs cost over $45,000 each, but are considered far superior to the cheaper ($10,000) Viper laser rangefinder (which only has a 4,000 meter range.) If the Mark VII laser range finder was hooked up to a laptop computer with special software, the targeting information could be sent direct to the bomber overhead, where the pilot could automatically program the bombs with the right GPS information. Still in development is a special, rugged, laptop computer that will store map, location and intelligence data. The TACP equipment is still heavy for infantry operations, with each TACP man lugging over 70 pounds of gear just for calling in air strikes. A lot of this is batteries. So new equipment has to be lighter and more efficient in using battery power. 

Over the last twenty years, the air controllers on the ground have stopped using air force pilots (on temporary duty) assisted by air force sergeants to career air force sergeants taking care of the entire ground control operation. This has worked well, as TACP is seen as an elite field. For someone in the air force, TACPs are living a rather rough and dangerous life. Air Force TACPs live with the army units they support. For the elite TACPs who serve with the Special Forces, this means they have to be in good enough physical, and mental, shape to keep up with the extreme operations Special Forces tend to undertake. Informally, army units train some of their personnel to handle TACP duties if the air force TACPs are killed or wounded. The army, especially the Special Forces, wants to make this an official policy, but the air force doesn't want to give up control.


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